Best things to do at Abu Simbel
As you step foot into this archaeological gem, prepare to be transported back in time to the era of pharaohs and dynasties. Home to the magnificent Abu Simbel Temples, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a plethora of incredible experiences that will leave you in awe.
Marvel at the colossal statues of Ramses II, explore the intricate hieroglyphics that adorn the temple walls, or immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of this remarkable place.
#1 Be wowed by the temple of Ramesses II
The temple of Ramesses II was carved out of the mountain face between 1274 and 1244 BC, to confirm Ramesses II’s might to all those who sailed down the Nile from the south, particularly the prosperous Nubians.
The rock temple was dedicated to the main gods of Upper and Lower Egypt, Amun-Ra and Ra-Harakhte, but also to the deified pharaoh himself. Over the centuries the desert sands covered up most of the temple’s facade, indeed only one head stuck out of the sand when Swiss explorer Jean-Louis Burkhardt discovered it by chance in 1813.
It took the Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni several years to clear enough sand to enter the temple. Unlike other temples, Abu Simbel was not freestanding; the facade was the cliff face itself hewn in imitation of a pylon and dominated by four colossi of a youthful Ramesses II.
The temple was sawed into more than 1,000 transportable pieces, some weighing as much as 15 tonnes, and reassembled at a new site 60 metres (200ft) higher than the original. The ground was levelled, and a great reinforced concrete dome was made to cover the temple.
#2 Admire the facade
The four seated 20 metre-high (66ft) colossi of Ramesses II dominate the facade. The pharaoh considered himself a reincarnation of the sun-god Ra. At his feet are some of his children, and the supporting balustrade has kneeling and bound African captives on the south side and Asian captives on the north side.
Look out for the graffiti left by earlier travellers, particularly on the two southern colossi; on the left leg of the second statue is a Greek inscription from mercenaries who passed by in the 6th century BC.
#3 Visit the Great Hypostyle Hall
The portal, topped by a statue of the falcon-headed sun-god, leads into the Great Hypostyle Hall. This central hall is flanked by eight 10-metre (33ft) -high Osiride statues of the king in a double row facing each other, against a corresponding number of square pillars.
The northern wall of the Hypostyle Hall is decorated with the Battle of Kadesh, in which the young Ramesses II confronted the Hittites in Syria. It is one of the most extraordinary and detailed reliefs to be found in the Nile Valley.
There are more than 1,100 figures and the entire wall, from ceiling to bedrock, is filled with activity: the march of the Egyptian Army with its infantry and charioteers, its engagement in hand-to-hand combat and the flight of the vanquished prisoners, leaving overturned chariots behind them.
#4 Slide into the second Hypostyle Hall
The much smaller Second Hypostyle Hall has just four large pillars and is decorated with scenes of offerings. Next is the vestibule that leads to the sanctuary carved out of the mountain to a depth of 55 metres (180ft).
Inside this is an altar and the seated statues of Ptah of Memphis, Amun-Ra of Thebes, the deified Ramesses II and Ra-Harakhte, the sun-god of Heliopolis; they are all the same size, indicating equality between the king and the gods.
#5 Admire the chapel
Outside and south of the temple is a small chapel dedicated to Thoth, the god of learning, and five steles dedicated to high officials of Ramesses II. Unfortunately, at the time of writing it is no longer possible to enter the steel-enforced concrete dome that supports the temple (which gives a fascinating insight into the salvage process).
#6 Enter the Temple of Queen Nefertari
The small Temple of Queen Nefertari, which lay to the north of the great temple of her husband Ramesses II, was also saved. Nefertari was the most beloved of the wives of Ramesses II; and the pharaoh took the unprecedented step of having the facade of this temple decorated with statues of himself, his wife and their children.
The goddess Hathor, to whom the temple is also dedicated, lovingly attends to the sun-god during his day’s passage, so Nefertari is depicted watching admiringly as her husband kills his enemies.